Ongoing climate changes present new challenges and opportunities for improving our understanding of environmental processes across spatial, temporal, and biological scales. Humans will continue to interact significantly with such ecosystem responses, both by exacerbating overall environmental changes and by inequitable distribution of the consequences of environmental change by region and culture. Future responses of ecosystems will depend on the resilience or the vulnerability of their ecological communities, encompassing population and functional responses. In my research, I seek to understand the factors that contribute to resistance or resilience of ecosystems facing environmental changes.
Diversity is not always visible to the naked eye, and research in my laboratory has focused on two particular forms. In addition to an interest in cryptic algae, my research program focuses increasingly on microorganismal communities, which play outsized roles in freshwater and coastal water quality and nutrient cycling. Together with algae, microorganisms are integral to our understanding of human-environment linkages.
Understanding the ecology of resilience depends on processes acting at multiple scales, often acting together to provide functional redundancy or buffering of species interactions. To do this, I use manipulative field experiments in conjunction with laboratory experiments targeting hypothesized physiological mechanisms that underlay community-level observations. Species interactions have been a particular focus of my work. As members of communities are differentially affected by environmental changes, species interaction strengths may change or disappear entirely as a result of species range shifts, altered phenologies, behaviors, or functions.